Bridging the Research to Operations Gap in Dam Safety Applications

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 5:00 PM
Room C302 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Victoria Lynn Sankovich, Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, CO; and R. J. Caldwell, N. Novembre, J. England Jr., K. M. Mahoney, M. A. Alexander, and L. D. Brekke

An evaluation of hydrologic risks to infrastructure (such as dams) requires examination of extreme precipitation events for application in rainfall-runoff models. These models require detailed spatial and temporal information on precipitation and temperature of past storm events to characterize the dynamics of hydrologic and meteorological processes (i.e., snowmelt, soil moisture, runoff). Understanding the synoptic and mesoscale evolution of extreme precipitation events is critical in identifying the key drivers of significant floods. How these mechanisms may change in the future is a secondary consideration for risk assessment.

Collaboration between the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the past several years has provided the opportunity to investigate some extreme precipitation events across the western United States. During the first two years, research efforts have focused on atmospheric rivers in the intermountain West and summer-time convection along the Front Range of Colorado. As a result of this collaboration, Reclamation now has further insight regarding inland moisture transport, orographic influences on precipitation magnitude, and preferred ingredients to convective storms. In addition, numerical simulations with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model have provided the ability to evaluate storms under both synthetically maximized conditions for precipitation generation and under delta-based climate change scenarios. The WRF model output provides high-resolution spatial and temporal storm information that is typically missing in the complex terrain of the West, yielding a potentially important avenue for forcing rainfall-runoff models.

This invaluable research from CIRES and NOAA is steadily enriching the literature in the atmospheric science community; however, the findings have yet to be fully incorporated into operational hydrologic hazard studies and practice at Reclamation. Bridging this gap between research and operations is the focus of a renewed collaboration effort. Here, we describe the extreme precipitation needs for an individual hydrologic hazard study, such as Taylor Park Dam in the Gunnison River Basin, Colorado. Connections between ongoing and future CIRES research efforts and operational applications by Reclamation are drawn to expose the beneficial pathways of joint investment in science. Special attention is given to the tools and procedures currently under development by Reclamation staff and the interagency communication required to effectively translate complex research to practical applications.